/ Best easy/fun way up the Ben?

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maybe_si - on 06 Mar 2017
Heading up to Scotland this weekend with the misses, she has never been up Ben Nevis so thought it could be fun. I've done a lot of the classics up to grade VI but not for years (started going to the alps for more reliable conditions!) She can climb well but never done anything in winter at all, mainly single pitch sport.

Any suggestions for a nice, easy route to the top that's not just the tourist route? Something grade 1 or 2? Gardyloo? Not exposed at all, little danger etc, just a little bit more interesting than a long plod? What's the avalanche risk like at the moment? I've not really been paying too much attention to conditions this winter?

Cheers

Simon
wilkie14c - on 06 Mar 2017
In reply to maybe_si:

Ledge route springs to mind but it is subject to an avalanche prone approach
purplemonkeyelephant - on 06 Mar 2017
In reply to maybe_si:

I did No 4 Gully with my new to crampons/axes girlfriend last month, it was my first route up the Ben and her second. It's pretty straightforward as long as there is no cornice and if she can manage being higher up on snow/ice slopes. You could always short rope it if she's nervous. For a first winter route up the Ben I would recommend it, we descended the tourist path to the lochan with clear skies which gave stunning views too!
maybe_si - on 06 Mar 2017
In reply to purplemonkeyelephant:

That sounds like a good shout, how avalanche-ey does it tend to be?
purplemonkeyelephant - on 06 Mar 2017
In reply to maybe_si:

From what I hear it's on the lower end of the spectrum compared to some of the other gullies on the NF, but like any gully weather/cornice conditions have to be on point. As you know, Scotland being Scotland you won't know for sure until you're there so have a plan-B (CMD or maybe just taking the Red Burn variation on the tourist path). Also we ended up with quite a lot of thaw-melt ice as we went during slow warm up so I'd recommend two axes if she's nervous, I certainly wished we had two when we were high up. You don't NEED two but it would have made us feel a lot more secure on a huge icy slip'n'slide with just your front points and only one axe head holding you on.
Tricadam on 07 Mar 2017
In reply to maybe_si:

If good vis, CMD has to be the one. It's the viewing gallery for the whole of the north face. Alternatively, go up one of the easy routes - as suggested above - and descend CMD at sunset. Stunning.
Jamie B - on 07 Mar 2017
In reply to purplemonkeyelephant:

I'd (very) respectfully suggest that if someone feels the need for 2 axes on No.4 Gully, they probably are not trusting their feet enough and should work a bit more on crampon technique in a more benign location. I agree that it is worth thinking about a 50m rope and a snow anchor to protect the steepening at the top, but I wouldn't recommend short-roping for such consequential terrain - as always secure and practiced movement is the best protection.
purplemonkeyelephant - on 07 Mar 2017
In reply to Jamie B:

Agree with you on everything really, of course you don't need two axes, we managed just fine with one. I think I'd rather have a second on my pack though as an option. As I said it was very icy on our ascent and having one hand sliding around on transparent ice rather than holding an axe seemed silly. There was no way you could self arrest on that ice so having an extra point of protection seems logical to me. Apart from weight saving is there any benefit to not taking a second axe?

Regarding short roping you are right too, better to be secure always. But the way I saw it I was guiding my girlfriend into places she wasn't used to and it was my responsibility to ensure in the very unlikely event she slipped that there was a backup, and that when we got to the topout I had the option to belay her up the steepest parts. When taking someone into a new environment for them it seems wrong to make the decision for them that they should solo everything, as they won't have the developed instincts to know when to trust their placements yet.
Jamie B - on 07 Mar 2017
In reply to purplemonkeyelephant:

Where I have seen people climbing with 2 axes on grade 1 snow there has been a tendency to over-focus on axe-placement and holding onto them, rather than placing feet well and securely. "Transparent ice" is not something I've ever seen on No.4, so in those (freak) conditions you can possibly award yourself grade 2!

Short-roping, ie moving together with a short length of rope between leader and second/seconds is a pretty full-on "guiding" technique which requires the leader to make a very fine judgement on whether they can react to a slip by the second and absorb it before it becomes a sliding fall (for everyone). It's taken me years as an instructor to develop a sense of where and when it will work (or not). I'd say that No.4 would need to be quite soft for me to be comfortable with it. I do see the logic of "transporting" the rope in chest coils to the point at the top where it is likely to be deployed for a belayed pitch, but increasingly I do this with the rope just coiled on me, and an end with carabiner ready to clip on to a client/partner if things are starting to feel spooky!

I also do increasingly see the ability to move up, down and sideways unroped on "approach" ground, which is typically non-technical but highly consequential, as a core mountain skill. I aim to coach this to as high a standard as possible on lower slopes or through simple repetition on "bumpy" hillwalking terrain before going onto something like No.4.

Hope this helps and doesn't read like a polemic!
Post edited at 12:37
Somerset swede basher - on 07 Mar 2017
In reply to Jamie B:

I can remember a few years ago the top of number 4 being quite steep for the last couple of meters and being glad for a second axe. I'm no winter super star - generally fine up to grade IV and do the odd V or tech 6 - but I would have been uneasy without a second tool. Having said that, in most years I've been up (or more usually down) I have been fine with one.
purplemonkeyelephant - on 07 Mar 2017
In reply to Jamie B:

> Hope this helps and doesn't read like a polemic!

Not at all! Always happy for a constructive discussion on techniques for the mountains. I did understand the risks of short roping, but I guess it came down to being more comfortable risking being pulled off the mountain than having a long uncomfortable talk with some very unhappy in-laws ;)

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